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The price of tolerance

The infiltration of British schools by Muslim fanatics is a lesson for many of us who believe in multi-cultural Britain.

Nansen barneskole i Birmingham

Nansen Primary School is one of the Birmingham schools where evidence show that hardline Sunni Muslims have been attempting to insert «an aggressive Islamist ethos».

Foto: Joe Giddens / Pa Photos

This is the original version of Mark Lewis’ essay. For the Norwegian version, click here!

Children in one Birmingham school were taught that all Christians are liars. Another school put up posters warning kids that if they didn't pray they would «go to hell». Girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be «punished» by angels «from dusk to dawn». Christmas was cancelled.

Two separate reports published in the UK in the last week have found evidence that a small circle of hardline Sunni Muslims with Pakistani origins have been attempting to insert «an aggressive Islamist ethos» into as many as 13 schools in Britain’s second biggest city. The two reports differ on whether the so called «Trojan horse» affair was a co-ordinated plot by radical Muslims to take over the schools, or simply the result of contemptibly poor governance.

An alarm for all of us

Either way, the affair has highlighted the troubling degree to which many British schoolchildren have been exposed to intolerant, extremist views. It is also an alarm for all of us who take pride in tolerant, multi-cultural Britain, for we must take our share of the blame.

We must ask ourselves why unelected, poorly-educated school governors were allowed to hound head-teachers out of their jobs? Why were they allowed to bully parents and teachers and appoint friends and relatives into senior teaching positions? Why were council leaders afraid to challenge their policies and views?

The truth is that in our desire to be tolerant, we created an atmosphere where intolerance was allowed to flourish while parents, teachers and politicians were afraid to raise the alarm for fear of being branded racists, or «traitors to their faith or community».

Vulnerability to radicalisation

In his report, published Tuesday, Peter Clarke, a former anti-terror chief, concluded that there was no evidence of terrorism, radicalisation or violent extremism.

However, he wrote, «the very clear evidence that young people are being encouraged to adopt an unquestioning attitude to a particular hardline strand of Sunni Islam raises real concerns about their vulnerability to radicalisation in the future. There are real fears that their current experiences will make it harder for them to question or challenge radicalisation in the future».

For more, see BBC’s coverage!

Willfully blind

Senior male teachers and governors at one of the schools had set up a social media group, «the Park View Brotherhood» that exchanged «grossly intolerant» messages, he wrote. These messaged included: «explicit homophobia; highly offensive comments about British service personnel; a stated ambition to increase segregation in the school; disparagement of strands of Islam; scepticism about the truth of reports of the murder of Lee Rigby [a soldier beheaded by extremists in London last year] and the Boston bombings; and a constant undercurrent of anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment».

Mr Clarke is a former top policeman, but it would not have needed a detective to see that these views are hateful or that there was something seriously wrong happening at these schools. Rather, many of us were willfully blind.

Suppressed debate

Take many of my fellow Londoners. Among the opinion formers and policy makers in the multi-cultural capital, these younger, richer more mobile citizens, have enjoyed most of the economic and cultural benefits of diversity and less of the downsides. Their good fortune has made it easy to dismiss concerns from other parts of the country as racist, and helped to clamp down debate.

This suppression of debate has created a second, equally troubling, side-effect. By helping to carve out a hole in our cultural landscape where intolerance has been tolerated and anyone who does not agree is branded racist, we allowed fanatics on both sides of this equation to occupy the space. In seeking to protect our values we have not only helped to create the conditions for the «Trojan horse» affair, we have also handed a propaganda victory to those people who hate multi-culturalism for their own reasons.

Three years after Utøya, the kind of hateful authors who Anders Breivik obsessed over in his bedroom in Oslo can say «look, I told you so».